Proposed route. Blue shows the Ogallala aquifer.
1,600-mile pipeline route (yellow dots). Orange line is existing Keystone I pipe.
LINCOLN - Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline came out Wednesday in droves as the second session of federal public hearings ran into the evening.The hearings, which took place in Lincoln’s Pershing Auditorium, were the fourth in a series of eight public hearings conducted by the U.S. State Department. Approximately 800 people attended the afternoon and evening sessions; of these, more than 200 applied to speak.
Even though the evening hearing was extended an extra half hour, only 164 people had the chance to speak.
The hearings are the final step in the department’s decision to grant or deny TransCanada a permit to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline across the Canadian-American border.
The decision will come at the end of the year.
Emotions ran high for both advocates and opponents.
Opponents primarily discussed the risks the pipeline and its contents pose for the Ogallala aquifer, and also brought up concerns about what they called TransCanada’s “bullying” of Nebraska land owners to grant easements for construction.
Bold Nebraska, the Sierra Club and other organizations opposed to the pipeline wore a sea of red clothes in the audience. Many wore black armbands with a heart around the words “Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer Lover.”
“At 12 years old, I don’t belong to a clique or a political party, but I believe this is wrong,” said Della Wilson of Bellevue, the youngest speaker of the day. “Your decision will affect me, my children and my grandchildren. Oil and jobs are important, but they are not required to sustain life. Water is.”
On the other side, advocates of the pipeline stressed the economic benefits. Many pointed to jobs the pipeline would bring.
“TransCanada has stood by their joint labor agreement and provided great wages, health insurance for workers and their families and retirement pension plans,” said Ronald Kaminski, the business manager of Laborers Union Local 1140 of Omaha.
Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln urged the State Department to move the pipeline’s route east, nearer to the route already used by TransCanada for its Keystone Phase I pipeline.
Or else deny the permit, Fulton said.
“Pay heed to the people of Nebraska, and pay heed to the land of Nebraska, particularly the Sandhills, for there is no other place on earth like it," he said.
Fulton understands the need for jobs and would like to see energy sources coming from friends, rather than enemies. However, he said the route of the pipeline still needs to be changed.
Wayne Frost, Lancaster County Farmer’s Union president, said he thinks the pipeline will be safer if moved to the east, and that the pipeline will create more jobs for Nebraska.
“I’m looking at my orange-clad fellow Americans,” Frost said, addressing the union crowd. “I think they need the jobs, and we can get those jobs for them. All we need is their help to get the pipeline moved to where it ought to be.”
Local 1140 members, many of whom travelled from Iowa, showed support by wearing orange. They argued that the pipeline would be safe and provide jobs and tax benefits to the state.
Lancaster County Commissioner Brent Smoyer said he was jealous of counties that would receive extra tax revenue from the pipeline increasing its property valuation.
He also said he would “love to see the unemployment rate drop” in Nebraska.
Another public hearing is set from 4:30-10 p.m. Thursday in Nebraska at West Holt High School in Atkinson.
State Department officials Theresa Hobgood and Michael Stewart chaired the public hearing.
Hobgood said the department has not made a final decision about the TransCanada pipeline and the hearings are solely for public comments, which will be considered as the department makes its decision.
Public comments will be accepted by the State Department until midnight EDT on Oct. 9. Comments may be emailed to email@example.com. Or, mail comments to: Keystone XL Project NID, P.O. Box 96503-98500, Washington, D.C. 20090-6503.
You can contact these news writers: Erinn Wakeman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Renee Pflughaupt at nns.rapflughaupt.com.